Parenthood is one of the very few areas in life in which no amount of preparation actually prepares you for what to expect, particularly in the first few weeks. First-time moms often take multiple classes and read numerous books in the naive belief that they will acquire all the necessary knowledge to aid them through the wonderful, but ridiculously stressful parenthood experience. Unfortunately, no book and no class can prepare first-time parents for the journey in which they are about to embark.
During pregnancy, and even prior to it, women tend to romanticize motherhood as a beautifully rewarding experience, and of course, it is. However, in the first few weeks of motherhood, it is often difficult to maintain that rosy perspective when you have not been able to find a moment to shower in days and when a good night's sleep has become a faraway fantasy.
First and foremost, parenthood requires a great deal of flexibility and a willingness to give up some control, and if you're someone who needs to be in control, you'll find that to be one of the hardest things to accept. Beyond that, becoming a first-time mom brings an array of emotions, which are not always positive, that are heavily influenced by the fluctuating hormones that take weeks to stabilize after childbirth.
When I became a mom for the first time, I could not help but feel some bitterness and resentment towards the veteran parents in my life, all of whom I believed failed to adequately prepare me for what I was about to experience. To save other first-time moms from this experience, here are 15 surprises first-time moms don't expect.
15 Birth Plans Be Gone!
Most first-time moms spend countless hours preparing a birth plan, which meticulously outlines every detail of their birthing experience from start to finish. Unfortunately, when those contractions begin, most, if not all, of those plans go out the window. No amount of preparation adequately prepares you for the intense pain of labor, and if you're one of those people who intends to have a natural birth, you may find that those intentions quickly dissipate as the contractions worsen. Likewise, many first-time moms romanticize what they believe will be their labor experience, preparing artfully selected music playlists and packing candles to set throughout their labor and delivery room, believing that these will set the stage for a beautiful delivery. But just ask any first-time mom you know if they actually used any of those things and they will admit that in the throes of labor, music and candles were the very last things on their minds.
Additionally, birth plans will often indicate what sort of interventions and medication the mother will accept during labor. Five weeks before your due date, its easy to say that you will forego the epidural and would prefer that the doctor not use forceps to deliver your baby. Fast forward to the moment when you have been stuck at 4 centimeters dilated for 10 hours with contractions just three minutes apart, or to a time when you have been pushing for an hour and a half and still no baby, and see if you still feel the same way.
14 Sleep Deprivation - The Struggle Is Real
In the final weeks of your pregnancy, you will hear lots of jokes from friends and family about getting enough sleep while you can because it will be a struggle to get sleep after the baby is born. Most first-time moms will likely laugh and have some semblance that sleep is hard to come by with a newborn baby, but the truth is that you don't fully grasp how true this is until you experience it. You may even believe that, somehow, your child will be different and allow you a few good hours of sleep. You could not be more wrong. Sleep deprivation is an absolute CERTAINTY in the first few weeks after you've had your baby, and it is no joke.
To start, you are in labor for many, many hours before you give birth to your baby. Then, rather than being allowed to get some good rest after such a physically draining experience, many hospitals have adopted a room-in policy that insists you keep your baby in the room with you, which means any chance to get some sleep is gone. Two days later, you bring your baby home and the sleep situation worsens because there are no more nurses available 24/7 to help.
Sleep deprivation can turn a positive, optimistic, happy-go-lucky individual into an absolute monster. You will suddenly find yourself loathing everything and everyone, and muttering obscenities at even the most innocent things because your outlook has experienced a dramatic transformation without quality sleep.
13 Crying Baby = Intense Anxiety
Some say that you will learn the differences between your baby's cry. For example, you'll know a hungry cry versus a diaper cry versus a bored cry, etc. However, first-time moms will have a difficult time differentiating one cry from the next for quite some time and that is so frustrating. Besides that, there is likely nothing more frustrating and painful than the sound of an infant crying. It both breaks your heart and sets your nerves on edge. Many moms will admit that when their infant cries without end for long periods of time, they will literally begin to shake. Unfortunately, there will be moments when you simply have to let your baby cry. You can only hold in your urine for so long before you decide that you must set the baby down and use the bathroom. Very quickly, the baby's crying becomes frantic and it is difficult beyond words to tune it out. Your heart will break when you hear your baby cry; that is an absolute fact. But you will also feel like you are slowly losing your mind because you can only hear that kind of crying for so long.
12 Room Temperature Drama
This might seem random but it's seriously one of those things that you don't expect. As a first-time mom, you'll be confronted with the awful reality that you are now responsible for protecting the life of your beautiful innocent child and it is terrifying. It's more terrifying if you live in a state like Pennsylvania in which you are required by law to watch videos about things like Shaken Baby Syndrome and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) at the hospital before you leave and realize just how fragile babies truly are. Nothing is more terrifying than Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and one of the contributing factors to SIDS that you've likely learned is room temperature. Because of this, much of your day will be spent doing whatever is necessary to change the room temperature to an acceptable level. You will be convinced that your baby is freezing and bundle him or her up and raise the heat, and minutes later, you'll realize that it is much too hot and throw open the windows and undress your child, only to decide that it is once again too chilly. You cannot trust your own sense of hot or cold because your fluctuating hormones are giving you serious hot and cold flashes, and the added stress of not finding the right temperature is sure to keep you up at nights.
11 Onset of Germaphobia
When you become a first-time mom, those friends and family members that you've adored your entire life will suddenly become cesspools of germs in your mind, particularly children such as your nieces and nephews. Again, you are confronted with the terrifying reality that you are responsible for the life of your child, and the thought of your baby contracting an illness, any illness, and possibly acquiring a fever that would require a spinal tap in the early weeks is enough to make you want to place your baby in a bubble. Doctors will advise that you do not bring your child out into public places for the first six weeks of his or her life for this very reason, but as a first-time mom, you are going to take this a step further and likely do your best to guard your child from the germ-ridden hands of your much-loved four-year-old niece. Whether this is rational or not is irrelevant. You will start to view the people in your life as potential disease carriers from whom you must protect your baby. Stock up on hand sanitizer now for your own sanity.
10 Brief Moments Of Resentment
Let me preface this by saying that parenthood is a very rewarding experience and you will love your child with an intensity that you could never imagine. However, there will be times in the first few weeks of motherhood that you may feel some resentment towards the baby because of the dramatic changes that have taken place in your life. There will be no more weekend Netflix binges, or sleeping-in, and spontaneous plans will become a thing of the past. The overwhelming love that you have for your child will surely make it all worth it, but in your sleep-deprived awake state, you'll be looking for small rewards to help you get through the day, but the baby will surely limit your options. Enjoy a glass of wine? It might be difficult to indulge in that if you are breastfeeding. Again, in the grand scheme of things, the baby is worth so much more than those things, but you won't be able to help longing for the pre-baby days every now and then. This does not make you a bad person and any mother who says that she never experienced this is lying.
9 Bye Bye Relaxation
In the first few days after you've brought your baby home from the hospital, you will realize very quickly that you are incapable of relaxing. How can you relax when you are now responsible for the life of another human being? You will be attuned to every little noise that comes out of your child, from the smallest whimper to the faintest gasp, and it will make it nearly impossible for you to relax in the beginning. Efforts to lay back on the couch and take a moment for yourself will be impeded by intense feelings of anxiety over your new responsibility. It is likely you will frequently check to ensure that your child is still breathing because you will be terrified thanks to all the SIDS literature you've read and you will not be comfortable even using the restroom and leaving your baby alone unattended, even if he or she is safely laying in the bassinet or crib.
8 Unsatisfied Hunger
If you have not yet figured this out, your baby is quite demanding and makes considerable demands on your time. If you have a difficult time listening to your baby cry, this is especially hard because it means you will not likely put the baby down and listen to him or her cry while you get anything done. As a result, you will have to begin to prioritize the items on your to-do list, and the first things to suffer are your own personal needs, including your own hunger. It is very likely that you will not eat breakfast before noon, and when you do have a chance to eat, you want to make it as substantial a meal as possible because it may be your only meal, at least until your husband gets home to relieve you of your mommy duties long enough to prepare another meal. For those of you interested in losing your baby weight, this might seem like a good thing, but I can assure you it's not. There's no worse combination than exhaustion and hunger when dealing with a screaming infant. And if you're breastfeeding, you are burning calories like crazy, which increases your hunger tenfold.
7 Frequent Visitors
You're sleep-deprived, hungry (because you barely have a moment for yourself to prepare a quick meal), and just utterly spent from all the hard work of parenting. You sit down to take a moment to breathe, and what's that? The doorbell rings. Someone else is here to visit the baby. While you are flattered and honored by all the attention your baby is getting from the people you love, the last thing you really want are house guests. Most likely, you are looking rather frumpy, and if you're breastfeeding, your shirt might reveal some leakage, so its perfectly understandable that you are not exactly keen on having people at your house. Unfortunately, there is not really a polite way to say that so you're really sort of stuck playing hostess when all you want is a moment to grab a quick nap in between the baby's bouts of crying. Additionally, your germaphobia will be exacerbated by the frequent visitations as you are acutely aware of every sneeze and every sniffle you hear from the people holding your baby.
6 No More Control
Gone are the days when you can plan out your day from start to finish. Did you want to squeeze in a quick cardio workout? Too bad. Did you want to surprise your husband with a nice dinner to thank him for all his help? Too bad. Did you want to pass a quick bowel movement? Too bad. Your life and your schedule are totally and completely out of your control and that is definitely a difficult pill to swallow. Be prepared to take your shower hours after you normally would, despite making several efforts to have taken the shower much earlier in the day. Budget some money to order food quite often during your maternity leave, as it will be difficult to find time to prepare meals. You likely never realized just how much power a one-week-old baby will have over your life, and you could not possibly imagine it. You just have to live it to see.
5 Longest Six Weeks Without Intimacy
Some say that after you've had a baby, you lose a bit of your sex drive, but this is not true for everyone, and if you fall into the group of women who wants to have sex shortly after you've had your baby, you'll feel like the required abstinent six weeks after you've had a baby is the longest six weeks of your life. Your obstetrician will advise against sexual intercourse before six weeks because of risk of infection, and for some women, a tear or episiotomy will need time to heal in that period. However, given the stress and anxiety that you experience in the weeks after you've had your baby, you'll soon discover that your favorite outlet to expel some of that anxiety is off the table and man, does that suck. You can try to do other intimate things, but in the mom's case, the options are rather limited since your region down below is fairly off limits. Also, if you are breastfeeding and are producing milk, you'll find that you begin to lactate when things heat up, which most surely puts a damper on things.
4 Immediate Increase To Your Household Budget
You've had a baby shower and you received more items than you thought possible, especially diapers and wipes. You may think to yourself that you are all set for awhile, but again, you could not be more wrong. You will barrel through those diapers faster than you can blink, especially as a first-time mom who has not yet mastered the art of changing a baby's diaper before he or she urinates or makes additional poos in the new diaper during the changing process. If your baby has an especially gassy day and has many poopy diapers, you can easily go through an entire package of wipes. Diapers and wipes are new items to add to your weekly shopping list and they add up.
However, nothing adds up faster than the cost of formula. A 32 ounce container of formula costs roughly $25 and though it looks large, a baby can easily go through it in a week, possibly in less time if he or she has a good appetite. For this reason, many first-time moms will opt to breastfeed in the hopes of saving this money. But the road to hell is often paved with good intentions....
3 Breastfeeding Troubles
You may have read many books and taken several classes on breastfeeding so that you can fully prepare to use your body to nourish and satisfy your baby's needs. You indicate in your birth plan that you want to begin breastfeeding as soon as possible after you've delivered the baby, but remember what I said about those birth plans (see entry one). If there are any complications whatsoever during your labor, you may not be able to immediately introduce breastfeeding to your baby. For example, if the baby needs to go to the neonatal unit for any reason, you will miss out on the opportunity to begin breastfeeding during the baby's most alert period.
However, even if you do have that opportunity, there are many factors that are outside of your control when it comes to introducing breastfeeding, most notably involving your baby's ability to latch on. In my experience, my daughter had a short tongue and did not know how to stick out her tongue far enough to properly latch on, which meant that each attempt was painful. When the baby is unable to latch on, you must resort to pumping and feeding him or her from a bottle, which unfortunately creates nipple confusion, making it even more difficult for the baby to latch on. Meanwhile, pumping typically does not generate as much milk as a suckling baby would, and you are often obligated to supplement the baby with formula in order to ensure he or she is satiated. As a result, you will have to continue to feed the baby both formula and breast milk through the baby's first year. So much for saving money.
2 Endless Laundry
You may not believe that an eight pound infant can generate so much laundry, but you will soon learn that your washing machine will be constantly in use. Poopy diapers that are not changed quick enough can result in poop running up the baby's stomach and back, forcing you to wash the baby's onesie and sleeper/outfit. You will frequently be washing changing pads, bibs that quickly accumulate caked-on formula, receiving blankets, etc. Also, because the baby's items require you to use a specific detergent, you will not be able to wash your own clothes with his or her stuff, which means you are running the washing machine constantly to clean separate loads. If you pay for your own water, you will surely notice increased water bills, as well as increased electric or gas bills, depending on what your machine utilizes. And that pediatrician approved laundry detergent will run you about $15 per container. Sadly, it goes quickly.
1 Constant Fear
You will experience many emotions after you've had your baby, most notably intense love for your child. However, I do not want to sugarcoat it for you -- perhaps the next strongest emotion you will feel in those first few weeks is intense fear. The responsibility of taking care of a child places a weight on your shoulders that you have never experienced, and it is terrifying, particularly when you are inundated with literature about SIDS, Shaken Baby Syndrome, and every terrifying disease under the sun from which you must protect your child. You will also be overwhelmed by fear that you are somehow inadequate, again likely from the intense fluctuations in your hormones, but a very real fear, nonetheless. As time progresses and you get more adjusted to your new life as a mommy, this feeling will subside, but I am convinced it will never fully go away. However, I also believe it is that fear that keeps you on your toes and makes you an even better parent, so embrace the fear and own it.